Yes, Tua Tagovailoa Wasn’t Great, but Miami Dolphins Won’t Beat Elite Teams Without Improved Defense

    The San Francisco 49ers harassed Tua Tagovailoa and ran all over the Miami Dolphins' defense late in a game Jimmy Garoppolo was lost for the season (foot).

    Sunday was a reality check game for the Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins. They’re almost certainly a playoff team. But to avoid going one-and-done, they need to act like a playoff team against the league’s best clubs.

    San Francisco 49ers Batter, Bruise Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins

    Mike McDaniel’s Dolphins crossed the continent to face the San Francisco 49ers for a showdown of teams on long winning streaks with championship hopes.

    The Niners won the game — 33-17 in an affair closer than that score — but lost their quarterback. (Jimmy Garoppolo is out for the year after breaking his foot, meaning a Super Bowl-caliber roster will be led by Mr. Irrelevant, Brock Purdy, for the rest of the season.)

    The Dolphins (8-4, second in the AFC East), meanwhile, for a bit looked like they might have lost both.

    Tagovailoa didn’t play in Miami’s final possession due to an ankle injury that Tua suggested afterwards wasn’t as alarming as it first looked. When asked about his health post-game, Tagovailoa responded that he’s “as good as I can be coming off a game. We’ll assess some things. As good as I can be.”

    Simply standing on two feet after the beating he took from Nick Bosa was a win. Bosa sacked Tagovailoa three times, the last of which knocked Tua from the game.

    It capped a forgettable three hours for Tua. He simply didn’t have it, misfiring on attempts that for him were almost layups. After going more than 190 pass attempts without a pick, Tagovailoa threw two in as many plays. The second one was egregious. He airmailed a wide open Tyreek Hill on a swing pass.

    Tagovailoa finished 18 of 33 for 295 yards with two touchdowns to go with three turnovers.

    “Poor ball placement,” Tagovailoa explained. “Nothing more than that. Just bad. … No one really to blame but myself. We’ll be better for this.”

    There’s reason to believe he’s right. Tagovailoa faced the Niners’ fearsome pass rush without either of his starting tackles. Terron Armstead and Austin Jackson were both out with injuries, and Tua showed uncommon jitters without them.

    Those nerves, presumably, will calm down once his bodyguards return. The porous defense, meanwhile, won’t be nearly as easy a fix.

    San Francisco 49ers Carve Up Miami Dolphins’ D

    Great teams put their foot down when even a second-string quarterback enters the game. Purdy began the season as San Fran’s No. 3. (Week 1 starter Trey Lance was lost for the season in Week 2.)

    And yet, the Dolphins defense gave up 351 yards, 24 first downs, and 26 points (the Niners’ other touchdown came on defense). The Niners ran 79 plays. The Dolphins ran 45. San Francisco won the time of possession battle by more than a two-to-one margin.

    Most damning: The Dolphins knew the Niners (8-4, first in the NFC West) were going to run the ball, particularly on the game’s final minutes, and could not stop it.

    MORE: NFL Playoff Picture and Clinching Scenarios Week 13

    It was still a one-score game when Christian McCaffrey broke loose for 30 yards late in regulation, a backbreaking run that all but sealed it for San Francisco.

    The Dolphins couldn’t get off the field Sunday, allowing the Niners to convert on 8 of 19 third downs. Miami, meanwhile, went 0 for 7 on the money down.

    It’s the kind of disparity that will get you beat against the league’s best team. And also against the league’s best teams playing Mr. Irrelevant at the game’s most important position.

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